Walking into the front room, a middle aged woman, eyes blotchy and tired, stood up from the lounge chair and moved towards me. She falters as a wave of emotion washes over her face. She wants to see me and yet she doesn’t. She would rather her son was living and none of this was happening. The sound of the TV cuts into the space.
At this moment, I have entered the sacred space of ceremony. An intimate ceremony at home that will honour the mourning, pain, shock and loss that has overwhelmed this couple. Together, we will also celebrate the beauty, love and gratitude of having had their son with them for 22 years – and grieve his leaving.
As I enter this space, my heart races, just enough, to remind me that I don’t know what to say, and calls me to breathe, feel my feet on the ground and have faith. I lean into the support I feel within me to share one of the most painful moments of their lives. The death of their only son. I am here to listen and be present, to connect and care and to guide the way forward for the memorial ceremony that will happen in a few weeks.
The TV is turned off and we sit facing each other around the kitchen table. There is space in the sharing – time for reflections, stories, tears and laughter, insights and more stories. I look through their photos and I can see his room from where I am seated.
Within myself, I notice moments of being uncomfortable, of wanting to fix the situation, of heartache… I breathe, feeling the sensations arise, letting it be. Being present with what is, just as it is. Listening deeply. Not trying to rush it over. Not counselling nor giving advice rather, when there is a pause, offering a short reflection of what I hear. Only asking questions that are needed for the ceremony to be a true reflection of what they want and who their son was, and is now, in their lives.
Much of this is happening while I make notes for the ceremony writing. I ask all families, at the start, if it is ok that I use my laptop as I can touch type. Sometimes, I ask for a pause to catch up on notes and that moment of silence is part of our being together. Towards the close of our time together, our conversation turns towards the practicalities and, by this time, they are ready for this.
It is nearly two hours later, when I offer a snapshot of our time together and reiterate their needs for the memorial service. Needs for support, care, ease, beauty, connection to the land… mourning and celebration; and a beautiful ceremony. I reassure them that I will be there for them as we create this public ceremony together and that I will be in touch soon.
We hugged to say goodbye and felt her rest for a moment. She looked at me and smiled, ‘That felt really supportive. It wasn’t what I was expecting’.
This intimate first meeting is for me, a ceremony of as much importance and richness, as the public ceremony that I will go home and craft on their behalf.